There are over 6 million women aged 15 to 44 and over 4 million births each year in the United States (US Census Bureau). During the course of a year, approximately 1.5 million women in this age range will meet criteria for clinical depression or anxiety disorder. Many of these women will be using medications to treat their symptoms. That up to 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, highlights the importance of understanding the potential fetal effects of medications used in the treatment of anxiety and depression. Thus, the best time for women of childbearing age to get information regarding the safety of these medications during pregnancy is before they fill their very first prescription. Some medications such as antidepressants have a relatively good safety profile for use during pregnancy. However, some medications referred to as "mood stabilizers" can cause serious birth defects while others do not. It is never an easy decision whether to take a medication during pregnancy, but in many cases the risk of relapse of illness with medication discontinuation is considerable and must be included in the decision-making process. There is a growing concern among researchers and clinicians that untreated mental health problems during pregnancy can have negative effects on the pregnancy and baby's development.
The Penn Center for Women's Behavioral Wellness helps women and their partners make these difficult decisions by providing clinical consultations regarding the use of psychotropic medications during pregnancy. Our expert clinicians meet with each woman (ideally including her partner) to review her behavioral health history and to discuss the risks and benefits of using medications during pregnancy. Together with the patient, her healthcare provider and her partner/family member, plans for pregnancy can be made in a careful and thoughtful manner, maximizing benefits - minimizing risks.